Casio C-801

Casio C-801

Nothing screams nerd watch and 1980s like a 20-button calculator watch.

And 1980-1983 saw a lot of Casios with this same configuration — but it started with this one, the C-801.

Offering 12/24 hour time, day and date (until 1999), stopwatch, dual time and an 8-digit calculator (six digits visible at once) AND a light it was the quintessential geek chic at the start of the 1980s, and kind of affordable at USD69.95 (about USD200 in today’s money). While production numbers aren’t known, there were a lot of variations of it — the C-80, C-70, C-60 and C-701 and variations of variations with colours and materials.

The watch used the QW133 module which has an annoying habit of turning itself into a display-only watch by stopping all the functions working except the light. There seems to be no reason for doing it either — most watch malfunctions can be blamed on leaking batteries of one kind or another, but QW133s can be clean as a whistle and still do this, so perhaps they just weren’t meant to last 38+ years.

Sometimes they can be brought back to life with a spin in an ultrasonic cleaner doused in isopropyl, but other times they just sit there sullenly turning the time over but doing little else.

There was a rarer white version of the C-801 made as well and finding one of these in good condition doesn’t happen often. Actually, finding one in bad condition doesn’t happen often either, so be grateful if ever you do!

This watch spawned the follow-up CA-901 which included an alarm (with selectable pitches) and the popular space invaders game that had been played to death in the MG-880 game calculator.

The follow-up module, QW134, suffered from the same now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t fault of the QW133 so while its still reasonably common to find either of these watches, or their variations, for sale — make sure you are getting a fully-functioning version, otherwise you might be spending a lot of time just looking at the time.

You can pick them up for as little as USD30 and as much as USD300 depending on condition, and looks as cool on your wrist (if not cooler) as it did in the early 1980s when you were still wondering how to straighten your shoulder pads and unstraighten your perm.

Worth having for their history alone, the C-801s are still a handy watch, even if your phone does a million more calculations than the watch does. For 1980, this was high-tech indeed!

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